An in Depth Look at What Triggers an Athlete's Substance Abuse

Tina and Kenny Greene from Athletes Recovery interviewed Dwight Davis, Former NBA Player & Current Member of the Board of Directors of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA).

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​In recent months , there has been no shortage of star athletes making national headlines due to their struggles with addiction; such as Lamar Odom, NBA; CC Sabathia, MLB; Steve Sarkisian, NCAA & NFL Coach.   From the outside looking in, most of us have this perception that all athletes live glamorous lives comparable to movie stars. That is clearly not the case; athletes struggle with the same battles that normal individuals battle on a daily basis. To better understand why so many athletes resort to drugs and alcohol, we reached out to former 1st Round Draft Pick NBA player and Cleveland Cavalier Dwight Davis.

 AR: A high percentage of professional athletes are raised in poverty growing up. Do you feel that this increases their likelihood of addiction later on in life?

DD: Although we know that genetics play a significant role in addiction, the importance of the social piece cannot be overlooked. The circumstances of an individual’s home and community cannot be overlooked nor minimized

 AR:  Which party would you say places the most pressure on athletes to succeed and could this fuel an addiction? The athletes themselves? The coaching staff? The fans? The organization’s front office? 

DD:  All of the above and a few more can increase an athlete’s foray into addiction.  Family, friends, commercial opportunities, even sports agents.  Frankly I believe it depends on which source the athlete places the most trust in at the time the athlete begins to experiment with drugs.  It’s important to know that addiction almost always begins as an experiment.

AR:  Professional athletes have grueling schedules, sometimes playing games on back to back days. The physical nature of the NHL and NFL are especially hard on an athlete’s body. Do you find that after an athlete’s career has ended, that they resort to prescription drugs to alleviate the pain they’ve put their body through?

 DD:  My experience is that the prescription drug use starts in the athlete’s team training room and often precedes the use of illicit drugs.

 AR:  Do the massive salaries of professional athletes have a correlation with drug addiction? Does it give them more access?

 DD:  Not only does it give them more access, the money provides them with escape routes should the athlete find himself in trouble.

AR:  After an athletes’ career has ended, we often hear of them having a hard time with the loss of celebrity and identity. All they ever knew were sports. Does this often lead to an onslaught of depression which could trigger an addiction down the road? 

 DD:  Normally, when the public becomes aware of an athlete’s problem the addiction has been deeply imbedded for some time.  

AR:  Like actors and musicians, do many athletes feel as if they can’t live normal lives and could that in your opinion, fuel an addiction?

DD:  Personally, I feel that is an excuse.  Most athlete’s would not want to do what it takes to “live a normal life”.  The routine, the wages, challenges of the “regular” girl and guy are more than celebrity types would be successful.

 AR:  Do they feel as if they can’t trust anyone, go places that “normal” people go without being bothered for photos or autographs, etc?

DD:  The best way to have trusted friends is to be trustworthy.  There are things a person can do, decisions a person can make that will increase the likelihood that they will have trusted friends.

 AR:  Of all professional athletes out there that have battled drug addictions, who would you say has had the biggest impact in terms of raising awareness of the disease of addiction and ending it’s stigma?

DD:  Sadly, I cannot think of one who has had a great impact on changing that perception of addiction as a disease like Magic has had with AIDS.

 AR:  Which athlete’s addiction story do you find to be the most heartbreaking? Reggie Lewis? Len Bias?

DD:  The Len Bias story is heartbreaking for me because he never got the chance to take his skills to the next level and by all reports he was a good kid.  Reggie Lewis at least got a chance to play at the NBA level and personally I refuse to weigh in on whether drugs had something to do with his death.  It seems that there is ample amount of uncertainty.  Knowing what I know from my experience with drugs and the gossip that surrounds sports is that without a smoking gun I will not indict another.

Sports fans are so quick to judge athletes that they simply do not know by their on-court performance. Perhaps we should take time to think about what life would be like in their shoes off the court. Maybe then, we might be able to empathize a little better that they may be struggling with life outside of the lines. We would like to extend our gratitude to Dwight Davis for allowing Athletes in Recovery to conduct this interview.

Dwight Davis

President, Senior Helpers Greater Seacoast

About Athletes Recovery - Our Athletes Recovery program is for athletes that are in need of treatment for substance abuse & addiction, depression, anxiety & mental health issues, gambling and TBI.   The Athletes Recovery Program is a private, confidential program designed specifically to meet the needs of professional and collegiate athletes – both active and retired. We work tirelessly to provide each athlete we treat with an individualized, rigorous therapy program based upon the client-specific needs obtained from our initial intake assessment. Our therapeutic approaches are rooted in the principles of recovery with an added emphasis upon spiritual, emotional, and personal growth designed to transform the lives of the athletes we treat as they embark upon their journey toward recovery. We understand that a culturally competent, compassionate, and experienced treatment team is critical for a rehabilitation program to best meet the needs of the clients we serve.   For additional information, please visit     

Press Contact:      

Tina Hunter Greene, Athletes Recovery 

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(844) 776-7326                                                                                                  


Categories: Celebrities, Healthcare, Sports

Tags: addiction, athletes, houston, lamar odam, MLB and Odom, NBA, NCAA Football, NFL., Sabathia, Sarkisian

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